Author of the Month: Vivian Vande Velde

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Classic fairy tales and virtual reality games with a twist, children with magical powers, tongue-tied dragons, princesses who don’t need rescuing, time travel, mystery, adventure, wizards, ghosts, troll teachers, unicorns, and more, all brought to you courtesy of Vivian Vande Velde.

Vivian VVV_WVande Velde can’t remember a time before she knew she wanted to write. She tells us that even as a very young child, “I would make up my own stories by taking what someone else had written and giving it a different ending…or I’d give the story from my own perspective if a character did something I couldn’t imagine…or I’d mix together characters from different stories to see how they’d react to one another.” Some of her published works reflect, in one way or another, these childhood imaginings. In Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, and Cloaked in Red, Vande Velde provides different takes on traditional fairy tales. Remembering Raquel tells the story of Raquel Falcone from the varying perspectives of her former classmates.

First and foremost, Vande Velde writes her books to entertain her readers, “enough so,” she hopes, “that they don’t want to put the book down.” As far as she is concerned, “the various ‘messages’ that come with my stories (cooperate with one another; appreciate your parents; don’t be too quick to judge others)—these are all secondary. If I emphasized them too much, they would get in the way” of the goal of entertaining. And there is plenty in her stories to keep her readers entertained. There is mystery and time travel, horror and magic. Her fractured fairy tales don’t just provide us with alternate endings—as is the case with many of her stories, the characters themselves are not always the stereotypical villains and heroines we’ve come to expect. Within the pages of her novels we find fire-breathing dragons that become allies, princesses who aren’t beautiful and demure, witches who aren’t ugly or mean, princesses who question being married to someone just because he completes some absurd tasks, a wizard who would rather tend his garden than deal with other people’s problems, and corpses that are downright cheerful. This refusal to make her characters, human or not, into stereotypes has the added benefit of making them more believable and authentic, even when it’s a talking dog or a child with magical powers.

Inspiration for her stories comes from many sources. Vande Velde confides, “What inspires me to write, generally speaking, is that I get very cranky and hard to get along with if I’m not writing, [but] what inspires a particular story changes—obviously—from story to story. My first book,” she goes on to explain, “was inspired by my desire to write a story that had many traditional fairy tale elements (princess, prince, old witch, giant, dragon, wishes); but I wanted to give each of those elements my own twist (the princess is shy and unsure of herself; the prince is arrogant and is the one who needs rescuing; the witch is more broken-hearted than evil; the giant is into gourmet cooking; the dragon is overcome by tongue twisters; and the wish comes with an entire volume of rules).” In the case of her latest book, 23 Minutes, Vande Velde “was inspired by a previous book I’d written, Heir Apparent, where the main character is stuck in a futuristic virtual reality type game and is sent back to the beginning of the game several times before she can successfully negotiate through the alliances and puzzles so she can get out. I wanted to do sort of the same thing, but with real life-and-death consequences, not played for laughs. So Zoe in 23 Minutes gets to play back time, and in trying different strategies, sees that people react to her differently depending on how she treats them. In doing so she learns about people, as well as about herself.”

Vande Velde doesn’t believe there are children who truly don’t like to read. During school visits, she’ll ask, “Is there anyone here who isn’t a reader?” To those who raise their hands she’ll say, “I know why you aren’t a reader, even though I don’t know you personally. It’s because you haven’t found the right book yet.” Vande Velde encourages them to “go to their librarians and talk to them—tell what sorts of things they’re interested in: sports, a particular TV show, computer games, cuddly animals, ugly animals, creepy-crawly animals, UFOs, real-life mysteries…I’ll say, ‘Your librarian probably knows a book that’s about that subject. And once you’re reading something you’re interested in, you too will start to enjoy reading.’”

To learn more about Vivian Vande Velde and her books, visit her website at http://www.vivianvandevelde.com/

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